Monthly Archives: November 2011
The holidays are very hard for those of us who suffer from depression. I know. I have depression. My pastor and I wrote a book about it. I recently wrote this short, short story for storypraxis and posted it on the ink*well website. I want to share it with my readers. I hope you find it comforting or possibly even inspiring. If you suffer from depression, the holiday season can be devastating. I am praying for you. If you are the fortunate ones who never suffer from depression, there is someone you know; someone you love; someone you can help who is suffering from depression. Pray for them this season.
Awake My Soul!
I do not move.
I am quiescent and still.
Movement for me is pain. Life is pain.
The trees outside are harsh and bare. Winter has stripped them of vigor and life. Gray fingers claw at the even grayer sky. Even the clouds do not move. The air is still. No wind. No breeze. No life. My daughter has placed me here on the porch. I feel the sting of cold on my cheeks but I can ignore it. I have ignored all feeling for months now. Since Tom died, I have had no reason to move; no reason to feel.
My daughter has wrapped a scarf around my neck and tucked it into the woolen sweater Tom gave me last year for Christmas. I can still smell him on it when I choose to acknowledge my sense of smell.
“Why is she out there on the porch?” That is my son-in-law inside the warm house.
“I’m tired of her, Richard. I can’t take this anymore.” My daughter has tears in her voice. I cannot feel them. I cannot touch them. The tears mean nothing to me.
“She’ll freeze to death.” Richard says.
“That’s the idea.”
There is a profound silence. And then, subdued sobbing; quiet, subtle. A white flake shimmies down the still air and lands on my nose. I choose not to feel it melt. So intricate, so beautiful in its design — one of a kind — it dies on my cold skin. It dies on the already dead. For, she has left me to die out here alone; cold; still; frozen.
The sliding door opens behind me and a waft of warm air bathes the back of my head. I cannot feel it on my neck for the scarf. Richard’s shadow falls over me from the lights inside the house; lights that try in vain to chase away the gray.
“You’ll have to forgive your daughter, Mom.” He says behind me. “She is very frustrated and wants to leave you out here to die.”
“I’m already frozen.” I whisper and he leans over me. His breath touches my forehead.
“Did you say something?”
“I’m already frozen.” I say more strongly. “Let me finish dying.”
My lips pull apart and I realize they have frozen together. I feel the pain as the first real sensation I have experienced in months. Richard squats beside my wheelchair and for a second, I choose to notice the strong profile of his face; his angular cheekbones; his gently stubbled chin; his clear eyes. He is watching the trees.
“Winter is hard for all of us, Mom. Spring is coming. I want to tell you a secret. It is a deep and abiding secret that no one can know.”
More flakes are falling now and caressing my cheeks. I choose not to feel their gentle touch. One lands on my cornea and I blink involuntarily. I must not do that again. But, try as I might to ignore his statement, the attraction is there. What secret is he talking about? “What secret?” My voice is a bare whisper.
“Virginia is stressed out because we have chosen to take a journey. It is a long and tedious journey and we will be gone for weeks. She doesn’t know what to do with you during that time. She can’t leave you alone. And, she isn’t going to leave you out here to die.” His breath streams away from him, a living thing full of warmth and moisture and the snowflakes eddy and swirl.
“Rawanda. In Africa. There is a little girl. She needs a family.” He turns his head to me and his gaze is full and hot on my face. Tears mingle with the snowflakes. “She needs to know her grandfather. She needs to know what he was like. Only you can tell her that.”
Another snowflake hits my eye and melts. The moisture runs along my eyelid and I feel a hot tear trickle down my cheek. No! I cannot let this happen! I cannot feel!
“Will you come with us to Rawanda? Will you come with us to get your granddaughter?” His eyes are full and round and wet and the snow is covering his bare head, peppering his shoulders.
I feel something deep within stir from a slumber of unforgiving anger and frustration. The black dregs of my depression begin to drift away as the warmth stokes itself in my heart. No! I want to scream. No! I want to hold onto the stillness; the inertia; the coming of winter’s death. I try to ignore Richard’s gleaming eyes and his warm breath and when I subtly avert my gaze a flash of bright red burns my retinas. A lone flower dares to challenge the grayness from my camellia bush. The snowflakes are covering it now and it wants to be seen; it wants to look upward to the hidden sun for life and warmth; it wants to live.
The chair creaks; the ice breaks across my knees and I push, push, push up and out of the heaviness of my crypt of sorrow and I stumble to the flower. I brush away the snow with shaking hands and my tears anoint the petals with life. With life!
Awake my soul! Awake!
I turn to my son-in-law who is standing with his mouth wide open and the snow covering his head and my daughter stumbles through the open door with her hands pressed to her tear streaked face and I feel the ice crack as I smile. “When do we leave?”
Stuffing belongs in cushy chairs, not in turkeys. I grew up eating cornbread dressing and the only thing stuffed in a turkey was those weird turkey parts my mother chopped up and put in her giblet gravy. To this day, I crave cornbread dressing at Thanksgiving. My wife is in the other room right now cooking up her spicy sausage based cornbread dressing and I plan on “stuffing” my face with it Thursday!
My love of cornbread dressing goes way back to my mother’s cooking. Each Thanksgiving, my family would travel to central Louisiana to a small town called Saline. There, my grandparents lived in a huge, hulking house that belonged on Universal’s backlot tour right beside the house from Psycho. It ached with age; sagging steps; pebbled paint so layered it looked like the gray skin of a huge dragon. The floors were so caked with sand and dirt, you could sweep for days and never get all of the grit out of the house.
But, no matter how forbidding the house seemed any other day of the year, for Thanksgiving it burst with life and laughter and food. My mother’s family was huge and my mother and her sister had married two brothers so the Hennigans and Caskeys celebrated their family reunion together each year. Three tables worth of food would fill the dining room beneath a swaying bare bulb on a long black wire like a vine growing through the far ceiling. And, we would gather around my grandparents and pray and thank God for another year and eat all afternoon.
My grandfather had been a deputy sheriff during the Great Depression and had been on the posse that hunted down Bonnie and Clyde. He would tell his stories each year of how each man who was on the actual posse that shot the criminals all ended up dead from alcohol or suicide. Grandmother would sit beside him behind her thick glasses and her easy smile and hair like wild cotton and nod. She was warmth and comfort personified; a short, full woman with a just right hug and a dry kiss.
There is a memory that transcends all of the food and the fragrance of yeast rolls and the pebbly taste of cornbread dressing. It never failed, amidst the babble and clanging silverware and laughter, there would be a knock at the back door. My grandmother would painfully rise up from her chair and go out to the screened in back porch. There, she would find a couple of men, maybe an older child wishing her a Happy Thanksgiving. These individuals were well known to the folks of Saline. Today, we would call them homeless. Back then, we called them helpless. And, it was the duty of any God fearing Christian to help the helpless.
This was a message I carried away from my grandmother. She passed away when I was thirteen and my memories of her were mostly centered on the kitchen and her biscuits and the great, unwieldy old fashioned washing machine with the wringer she used to wash clothes. She was a quiet woman with a deep abiding faith and a slight smile. But, when the helpless would come to the house at Thanksgiving, she did not pity them. She did not send them away empty handed.
During the Great Depression when my grandfather was a deputy sheriff, their family, as destitute as it was, still had much compared to most occupants of the failing farms and drought stricken world around them. My mother would tell me stories of these men, “hobos” and “bums” without work who would pause at my grandmother’s back door and ask for a morsel of food. My grandmother would always have something to give these men. Even with eight mouths to feed, she kept something aside. And, when they came by, she would give them food with a glad heart and helping of blessings. Why?
My mother told me many times how my grandmother would looked at her hungry children and explain that these men, these “helpless” in need might be angels in disguise. God might have sent them to test her hospitality; to plumb the depths of her heart to see if she did indeed love the unlovable as Christ had loved us all. My mother, long after Granmother passed away would nod and smile and quote this Bible verse:
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2
My mother has passed on now. My father is 97 and lives in a nursing home where he regularly “ministers” to the residents around him who are in “worse shape” than he by singing old hymns in a loud and sonorous voice. He is entertaining “angels unaware”.
I cannot say that I have ever met an angel. At least, not an angel that did not fall from heaven. I have met a demon and I can clearly recall moments in my life when I have been in the presence of great evil. But, I have been around many individuals throughout my life filled with love and laughter and life. They have encouraged me. They have shared my stories, my pain, and my life. I often wonder when I meet someone on a trip or on a foreign soil with whom I seem to have an instant connection if God has sent an “angel unaware” to test me; to plumb the depths of my heart. When I was in medical school a psychiatry professor taught us not to take our frustrations home but to “dump on a stranger” and take out our frustrations on someone we will never meet again. I raised my hand in class that day and told him I could never do that. He wanted to know why and, I am ashamed to admit, I did not tell him.
You see, I can never meet a stranger. I can never meet someone and think poorly of them. For some reason, each person I meet seems to be someone special and unique; a treasure to be discovered; a story to be heard. I owe that to my mother and her mother before her. I am always looking around me for an angelic visit. They taught me well. They taught me the worth of each individual in the eyes of our Creator. “You may be better off than anyone, but you are no better than anyone.” That is something my mother taught me and I will go to my grave with it. I will not become cynical. I will not become bitter as I age.
I will look at each person fresh and openly knowing that one day, I will entertain an angel unaware. And, for that I am most thankful this Thanksgiving Day.
There is a haunting appeal to contemplating the unknown. Since the dawn of mankind, we have turned our faces towards the heavens and searched the brilliant stars and the shining moon for answers. Who are we? Where did we come from? What is our purpose? What will happen to us after death? Is this all there is to life?
My daughter insists she has seen an angel. When we drive into our gated community, go up the slight hill and around the curve beside the large pond, she always points to a certain tree growing at the edge of the water.
“He was right there, Dad. Really, he was.” She describes a lanky, thin man with a beard and long hair wearing jeans and a simple tee shirt. She saw him as we passed but in looking back, he was gone. There and gone. A brief encounter with the unknown. At that time in her life, she needed this encounter. Struggling with her epilepsy and the terrible toll it had taken on her life as a high school student, she needed to know that God was still in control.
I did not see the angel. But then, the visitation was not for me. It was for her. A quiet message of reassurance that God is watching. We may not understand why life happens as it does, but we must cling to the assurance that God is in control. All I have to do is look up at the universe wheeling and spinning around our little oasis of life and know that God is in control. He is holding it all together and directing the path of each star, each galaxy, yes, each atom.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:15-20
I received a lovely email from a reader of “The 13th Demon”. I know the book seems to be a frightening and potentially horrific tale, but it is only in our terror that we see the power of God and His incredibly redemptive acts. In my book, I give a major character an affliction. I don’t want to say more than that for fear of spoiling a reader’s experience. The author of the email loved the book, particularly the story of the caterpillar. But, she didn’t like the fact I had used her affliction as that of one of the characters.
I saw in her email a hint of the pain and struggle of anyone who wakes up each day with a chronic illness. I see it in my daughter, who at 24 has just now begun to awaken to the possibility she can have her own life. She has started back to community college and is actually looking forward to holding a job and having an independent life. My wife and I marvel at the sudden change and not a day passes that I don’t look over my shoulder for the oncoming train. To my email fan, I sent commendation for her bravery and her honesty. I am all too aware of the toll such disease takes on a life. But, God is in control.
In the days to come, I will share more information about the nature of God’s messengers, angels. The power and presence of these creations of God are at the center of my books and to grow in understanding of these creatures is to get a glimpse of the unknown; a passing glimmer of God’s grace; a tall figure of reassurance standing by the road of life.
I went to Abilene, Texas to talk to a man who came back from the dead.
I’ll call him Julio. He was a simple man injured severely in a tragic accident that almost cost him his life. I heard the story of the policeman who happened upon the scene of the accident only moments after it took place. They were on a long, dark highway in the middle of flat, empty plains outside of Abilene. They were literally in the middle of nowhere. The officer found Julio lying face down on the side of the road with half of his head caved in and half of his face missing. Julio was not breathing. The officer was convinced he was dead. The man in the other vehicle was unhurt. When the officer went to speak to the other man he noticed someone hunched over Julio.
“Who are you?”
“Just a friend.” The man started clearing grass and dirt out of Julio’s mouth. Suddenly, Julio gasped for breath and the officer ran back to his car to radio for a helicopter. After the call, he found Julio alone on his back on the side of the road. The “friend” was nowhere in sight. The police officer believes the “friend” was an angel.
I sat across from Julio in a TexMex restaurant just hours after meeting him and hearing his extraordinary story. I had never met this man. He knew nothing about me. I had been asked by my close friend, Mike Licona to come and interview Julio and evaluate his story and his medical records to see if there was objective proof of his story. Julio had never seen me, never talked to me, and knew nothing about me. Mike had only met him the evening before and during their conversations never mentioned my name or anything about me.
Julio suddenly looked up from his plate and looked over my shoulder as if listening to someone. I turned. There was no one there. He looked back at me.
“What do you have to do with demons?” Julio asked.
I blinked in surprise. “Why do you ask?”
“Dad told me to ask you.” He referred to God as Dad. He looked over my shoulder again and then back at me. “And why are you using the number thirteen?”
At this point in my writing career, I was finishing up the final draft of “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye” for Realms. Mike didn’t know I was doing this. And, Julio certainly didn’t know. I was stunned. “I’m writing a book called ‘The 13th Demon’ and it is about spiritual warfare.”
Julio just smiled. “Dad said you were doing His work. You need to tell the world all about demons and angels. And, Dad told me to tell you not to worry. You have three guardian angels to protect you.”
I got the shivers. I trembled all over and looked over my shoulder. “Where are they?”
“Right behind you. I can see them. You have important work to do and God sent them to watch over you.” He went back to his enchilada and acted as if nothing supernatural had happened.
That wasn’t the end of Julio’s amazing knowledge. But, it was both a chilling revelation and also a comfort to know that I had a guardian, no, three guardian angels. I have spent a lot of time talking about demons. The word is in the title of my book. But, we have to remember that demons are fallen angels. The good guys are still there resisting Satan and his army on our behalf.
Do I believe in guardian angels? You bet I do. In the coming weeks as we prepare for Christmas, I will devote some time in my blog on the subject of angels. In the meantime, why not take the time to make some comments on how you feel about angels. Have you ever encountered an angel? Do you think you have a guardian angel? If you have something to share that is too long for a comment, just email it to me at my contact tab on this page. Let’s talk about angels as we prepare for Christmas!
I remember standing beneath the concrete stairway leading up to the sanctuary of Blanchard Baptist Church, my hand firmly gripping my mother’s hand as I looked down the stairs into the creepy, shadowy, basement where all children were confined.
The hallway was long and led directly beneath the aisle in the sanctuary above. Bare bulbs hung from electrical wire dangling from the ceiling and you could hear people walking around above us. My mother handed me off to one of the children workers and I was absorbed into the strange, creepy basement of Blanchard Baptist Church. No wonder I still have nightmares about the place. And, no wonder I chose that building as the setting for “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”.
SPOILER ALERT: I promised my readers I would put together a video of the history of that “white” building that I would one day cover in blood. The video contains some spoilers about the book so if you haven’t read it, you might want to wait until you have. I recently visited my old church and interviewed my good friend, Kevin Sandifer. Kevin reminded me of the Halloween I dressed up as a mad scientist, stretched him out on the pool table in the youth ministry “house” and proceeded to fling blood and guts on the kids who ran through the room. I guess back then I had a promising future in not only medicine but the macabre. Kevin Sandifer is now the Historian, Media and Archival Center’s director at First Baptist Church of Blanchard. So, as promised, a video visit to the location of all that blood and evil spilled out in “The 13th Demon”.