Denying his Plan

I consider myself a spiritual person…a child of God. It has not always been that way but there are things that have occurred along the way that have collectively brought me to a conclusion that I did not necessarily want to come to, that God does have a plan for me and even more frightening, a call on my life. He reminds me all the time, in different ways as the man who I am comes into conflict with the man I am supposed to be.

I went to Sunday school when I was a little boy and I loved learning about Jesus and Moses and all of the places they went in their times. I can remember my Sunday school teacher telling us that God had a plan for each and every one of us. At that age, your thoughts are not really about what his specific plan for you is, but rather how incredibly busy God must be…it is one of the first WOW moments I can remember. I felt at home in Sunday school and looked forward to going to church every week. My mother went for a time and after she quit going I would sometimes ride with the neighbor or get dropped off and picked up afterwards. Gradually I had fewer and fewer opportunities to go until eventually I didn’t go at all. As I got older and into the late primary school age, 4th or  5th grade, I was not so much interested in Jesus or Sunday School anymore. After getting into Chorus in school, music captured my interest. My father found me an old acoustic guitar at a pawn shop and even paid for lessons for a while, though we could barely afford anything beyond the absolute necessities at that time. He would often spend time at the neighbor’s house where they would all drink, play games and talk well into the night, nearly every night of the week. I would tag along from time to time and on one evening I saw an electric guitar and a broken amplifier in the corner of the room. The neighbor, Mr. Ed, noticed my interest. He told me that if I could play him a song on that guitar the next time I came over, I could have it. I was very young and not much of a guitar player yet, but those lessons I took would come in handy. My instructor was very theoretical and by that time had only managed to teach me a couple of songs, like Jesus-loves-me and Love-Me-Tender on the low E string. But my classmate, Derrick, was already playing chords and kicking it with the Boogie and Johnny B Goode.  He and I had become good friends and he showed me those Chords. So when I went back to play for Mr Ed, I too, was kicking it with the Boogie and walked home that night with my very own electric guitar. Sadly, Derrick was killed in a car accident shortly after that but I never forgot him and to this day I think about him often and how his kindness gave me a gift I have cherished ever since.

I used to spend my summers in Tampa with my Aunts and Uncles. They would pass me around for a week or two at a time. My Aunt Gladys was very devoutly religious and I would sometimes go with her to the Methodist Church that she went to. My Uncle was more about fishing, golf and shuffleboard so I often had to choose between spending boy time with him and church time with her. He taught me so much…how to fish, how to handle a gun, how to swim and shoot a bow. It was not hard for a little boy to decide who to spend time with, though I loved my Aunt Gladys dearly. I did go to church with her sometimes though and I learned to play the hymns I heard from there on a cheap little organ they had at their house. She would sit there sometimes and listen to me play…I don’t know why it came so easy for me to play those songs, but I had a pretty good ear for it.

As I got older and continued to visit, I seemed to have less and less time for my Aunt Gladys. The last time I remember her asking me to go to church with her, I told her I did not feel like going, and then when she left, I got up and went fishing. The last time she asked me if I would play the organ for her, I told her that I wanted to go out to the lake and fish instead. Even at that time she was sick. Cancer had taken over her bones and the following summer, she was completely bedridden. I did stay with them a little bit that last summer but did very little fishing. I spent some time just sitting with her and talking.

She would get sick to her stomach and would sometimes ask for a coke flavored slushie. I would run through the orange grove to the little store at the corner and bring one back for her. In hindsight, I think she was just sparing me from her worst moments. She continued to decline through the summer and I had to leave to go back to Pensacola to start school. She knew it was the last time I would see her, but she just smiled and told me what she had many times before…that God had a plan for me. I knew she was very sick and it was very hard to leave. A little more than a week after I got back home, we went back to Tampa for her funeral.

By then I was entering my teen years and starting to experiment with drugs, drinking, smoking and just being an all around rebel. Music became a pursuit…more important than school or family. Friday and Saturday nights were party nights and I played a lot for other folks. I hung out with some very colorful characters during that time and my parents rarely knew where I was or what I was doing.  I had acquired a beautiful but cheap acoustic guitar with a butterfly painted on it, which aptly enough, over the next few years would come to be known affectionately as my butterfly. I would often sit out in the woods behind the house and play by myself. There was a creek a little further back in the woods and I could sit there and play for hours at a time. That’s where I started writing songs (not good ones) and one of the first I wrote was called My Butterfly…a song about that guitar and those times, which became one of the Friday night favorites.

My Butterfly

Remember sitting the riverside,
Playin’ those old sweet songs,
I watched the eagle soaring the skies,
He never did no one no wrong.
Just like, me and my Butterfly,
We left everyone alone,
The music played on into the night,
Till momma would call me on home.
We loved to play for the autumn winds
With the birds singing harmonies,
The river flowing in perfect time,
And the trees were applauding me.
Just me and my Butterfly,
We left everyone alone,
The music played on into the night,
Till momma would call me on home.

One afternoon a neighbor heard me playing and came out to say hello. She told me that I should come to her church and play sometime. I don’t know why it sounded so interesting to me, but I told her I would like that. I was no choir boy and she knew it, but she probably saw an opportunity for me to use my ability, however limited it was, in a more constructive and positive way. I was actually pretty excited about it.

With the exception of the times I went with my Aunt Gladys to the Methodist Church during my previous summers, it was the first time I had been in a Church in years. It was a Wednesday night…very informal at first with people just sitting around the stage area and talking. There were a lot of kids there and a few that I  knew.  I met a girl there who played the piano and had clearly taken lessons. She was very good. We hit it off  very well and became good friends. After church there was always another half hour or so of socializing…sometimes a little finger food in the back. She and I would go out front to the stage and play around on the piano and the guitar. After a while, some of the younger children,  who were usually running around like a bunch of wild cats, would come and sit quietly while we played through the different songs that we were learning to play together. The music director was the Pastors wife and she took notice. She asked us if we could put together a youth presentation for an upcoming  Sunday night service. She left it completely in the hands of two teenagers. I went home that night excited and before I went to bed, I wrote 2 songs (not good ones) that just came to me like I had been working on them for weeks. It was either the sheer excitement of putting together a program or a gift from God but they came together so quickly and effortlessly that I couldn’t sleep, and I laid there all night staring at the darkened ceiling, humming the tunes in my head.

How Strong do you Believe

God’s gift to the world was a baby named Jesus,
Born to a Virgin and known to be,
The only Son of God and the Savior of the World
How strong do you believe.

Jesus really loves all the people of the World,
How strong do you believe,
Give to him your heart and trust that he is up there
Looking in down over you and me.

Because He is , I am

He is special to me,
Jesus is special to me.

He can move a mountain
He can calm the wind
If you open your heart and let him in….

He gives to me the lions strength though I am but a lamb,
I give to him, my heart and soul, Because He is, I am.

He can make a deaf man hear,
Or make a blind man see,
He is special, to me….

He gives to me the lions strength though I am but a lamb,
I give to him, my heart and soul, Because He is, I am.

He is special to me,
Jesus is special to me.

That next Wednesday night was a scheduled choir practice and afterwards, I played the song for my friend. She accompanied on piano and we practiced until we had it down like we wanted. The next Sunday evening we brought in the youth choir which was a bunch of kids ranging in age from 6 to 16. We practiced harmonies and had a lot of fun. The following Sunday night before the service, we all came early and  practiced again, with harmonies. Kids doing multiple harmonies. The Holy Spirit was at work that night as it was the most unbelievable and perfect experience I have ever had.

For the next several months, my friend and I worked a lot with the youth music ministry and it grew. There were musical presentations regularly with young people soloing, including myself.  I remember soloing one night with her playing the piano on an extremely difficult composition…she feared it when we practiced. At one point in the performance, she made a mistake and for a moment, she froze. At a point where I should have been panicking, I was uncharacteristically, calm.  I held up my hand to her to signal her to wait for a minute before she started playing again…and then I opened my mouth and words came out that had to have been the Holy Spirit talking because I was not, nor have I ever been that on-time with anything…We were barely fifteen years old and I was not the most eloquent speaker. It was eerily quiet and there were more than a hundred and fifty people in that Church looking back at us. I said, something to the effect of how personally rewarding it was to do the Lords work through music and how he was proud of every single note we played, even when we messed up. He was proud of every word we sang, even when we were off key or forgot the words.

And then as if on que, she started  playing again… beautifully. She never missed a note and when it was over, everyone went to their feet.

At some point, probably late junior year, I fell out of the church entirely.  Some of my old friends that still went tried to get me back. They would tell me that the youth choir still sang those songs. I had fallen into the early stages of my darker years by that time. One evening as I was heading out to the beach with some friends for a keg party, we had a flat on the highway not far from our neighborhood. Of all places it was right in front of my old piano playing friends house. I did not know it was her house there and we walked up to the door to see if they had a jack we could borrow. I was surprised to see her and her parents. She asked me why I had quit coming and I told her I just had other things to do. We talked for a while and before we left she said this to me…“You know, God has a plan for you…everybody seems to know that but you.”  She was so smart…a very intelligent girl far beyond her years and what she said probably made a lot of sense to her, but I still didn’t get it. She asked me not to be mad at her for saying it and of course I wasn’t. I just smiled and let it go in one ear and out the other. At the time, God was just not that important to me anymore.

I graduated and joined the Army where I became a very bad person, much worse than I had ever been before. Being bad was the culture in the Army…it was natural. Everyone drank, smoked and partied. We spent so much time in the field that every minute back in the rear was like the old Vietnam movies you would see with everyone in the clubs getting snockered and starting fights for no good reason. That was my life. I got into taking pills, cocaine and blotter acid all the time. Sometimes I would go two or three days without sleeping. Drug test were not nearly as common in the eighties. I was walking dead for a while. One day I was in such bad shape that I could not even get out of bed for formation. I had a very surreal “dream” that day that should have been a wakeup call.

I was walking through a hallway with no doors. I could hear the music and see the girl walking away from me in a trail of smoke, motioning me to follow. In retrospect, all of these things had figurative meanings that were very relevant in my life at that time. They were sins of the flesh…promiscuity, drinking, smoking, drugs, darkness, music…it all had meaning but I didn’t get it just yet. As I followed her down the hallway, there was a light and she turned and walked faster toward it. I followed and it got brighter until she disappeared into it and then it was gone and we were in a dark black lit room with red walls and no door.  I did not immediately see her and I turned around, scanning the room until I found her in the corner. She walked toward me and when she got directly in front of me, my dream girl went from bad to very bad, morphing into a huge red scaled dragon. Everything was moving in slow motion…I watched helplessly as it reared its chiseled arms back and slam its talons into my ribs in anger. Too many drugs.

I immediately came out of  the dream and sat up in bed, soaked with sweat. The dream was so real that my sides hurt badly for a couple of days, as if I had really been spiked. I don’t know if it was drugs that cause that or not. I think if it was the Devil having fun with me, he would have just continued to lead me down that hallway. If it was God trying to give me a glimpse of where I was headed, it was a good effort,  but there was nobody there that day to tell me that God had a plan for me. And so, it did not take long for me to slip back into my usual ways. For three years I spiraled out of control. I would ease up for a little while, and then go back. I couldn’t keep a girlfriend because I was so out of control. I was serious once during that period but I ruined that too.

After I got out of the Army, I met a more responsible woman, got married and had children. I went back in the Army and finally started to “grow up”. It took more than twenty years after that for me to begin to feel close enough to God again to hear his call on my life. To this day, I do not know what his plan for me is. I know that there is one and I know that my path begins with strengthening my personal relationship with him. For me, that means that while I am finding my own way, I am also helping others to find their way, attempting to find the figurative meanings in scripture as they apply to the world we live in today.

What I am learning is that we all have the same challenges to our faith whether we are believers or not. Understanding life, death, pain and suffering and most of all the idea that there are things out there that we cannot possibly understand; a universe that goes on indefinitely, life that formed from nothing or  a God who created man in his own image, all difficult for us to conceive of at times.

I find that people who say they do not believe often say so in anger, repudiating a God who would allow others to suffer. I suppose I can understand that, but why be angry with a God one doesn’t believe in? My suspicion in these cases is that they do believe, they just can’t accept that there is good in humanity that comes from the pain of others, which is a difficult idea, even for a believer.

I think there is always an expectation that God is going to intervene and cure illness, solve problems and create harmony at just the right time. If only we pray. And even if we don’t, how could a loving God allow it?

Our bodies were not made infallible which means we are subject to illness and disease and injury and death. We were also given free will, which  means we decide the limits to which we look the other way in the face of pain and suffering  or whether we have compassion that compels us to stand up and do something about it. We have all seen pain and suffering but we are all too busy bickering over religion, too focused on anything but curing disease and too caught up in day to day routines to collectively do anything about it. Our country itself, is the most powerful nation on the planet and cannot even lead a collective effort for funding research on a deadly disease like Cystic Fibrosis…and that’s just one disease. We have the right minds and the will to cure anything…but conquering disease is not a priority for mankind.

The human race is in control of its own destiny. God is not to blame for our pain and suffering nor should we expect him to cure it when our own efforts fall short of our capabilities. God has  a plan for all of us; unfortunately, it takes too many of us a lifetime to accept it, and that has a collective impact on humanity.

When the darker moments in life seem to define us, do we ask the Lord for the strength and patience to press on or do we become a slave to the circumstances we have been dealt? When we see pain and suffering in the world, how often do we challenge our faith by asking how such a loving God could allow it. And in response, how many times have you heard this? The Lord works in mysterious ways …OR…The Lord never gives us more than we can handle. All true, but not much comfort or confirmation when our heart is heavy. When we see pain and suffering, it is our nature to feel compassion, and that is what God wants from us…to be compassionate and to trust that his will is being served, even though we may not see it or even understand it. That compassion is motivated by suffering and it can bring out the best or the worst in us. We are faced with a choice to look away or to reach out… a choice to let it control our attitude or to inspire us to do more. How many are inspired to do good and make this world a better place simply by their observations or knowledge of the suffering of others? How many people take up a cause for good because they see the suffering of others? Every day is a challenge to try and make sense of the things we don’t understand. So when all of your world comes crashing down and you ask yourself…Why me? Remember, God knows the end of the story.


5 thoughts on “Denying his Plan

  1. When I tell my girlfriend that I’m doubting that God is calling me to anything, she just has to make the most oblique reference to Jonah to get me to snap back. “Is that a whale I see following you?” or something like that.

    And then sometimes God sends me by some circuitous route to a blog I’ve never heard of to reinforce the message. Thanks.

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