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The Beast, Part 1

There is a beast that lives deep inside of me. Beast is quiet most of the time. Beast is insidious and knows how to creep, cat like from the depths of my mind to the surface of today’s reality. I have locked him away so many times and thrown away the key. And yet, no matter how secure his cage, he always manages to escape. But not with a bang or a growl but with a quiet cat’s paw, sinister silence.

Right now, the Beast is on the prowl. I feel him flexing his claws and I feel his hot breath on the nape of my neck. He is hungry. He is ravished. He wants to devour my mind and soul and to end me.

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Awake My Soul!

Summer is here along with the heat and humidity. I wrote in my last post that soon I will launching a website dedicated to depression and our new upcoming book, “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan For Conquering Depression”. So, I dug through my previous posts and found this little story I wrote for the now defunct website, Posterous. It is set in the dead of winter, a reflection of the cold, dead feeling one can experience with depression. But, it is a story of hope!

Camellia in the snow

 

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.

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.

The air is so cold, it numbs my face. The numbed is numbed even more.

“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 said 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 gently touch. One lands on my cornea and I blink involuntarily. I must not do that again. But, try as a 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.

“Journey?”

“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 snow flakes 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?”

 

Don’t forget to pick up copies of “The Chronicles of Jonathan Steel” for your summer reading. You can go to the “Order” tab or check out 11thdemon.com.

Stranded in the Sargasso Sea!

In 1964, a cartoon premiered on Friday NIGHT called Jonny Quest. I was only 9 years old but I was instantly hooked. I can still recall sitting on our green Naugahyde* couch with a glass of chocolate milk and a miracle whip and mustard sandwich, eyes wide open watching a boy not too much older than me fighting lizard men in the middle of the haunted Sargasso Sea. Those images of rotting hulks of lost and abandoned ships covered with mold and sargassum seaweed still haunt my memories. Here is what Wikipedia says about this area:

The Sargasso Sea is a region in the gyre in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is bounded on the west by the Gulf Stream; on the north, by the North Atlantic Current; on the east, by the Canary Current; and on the south, by the North Atlantic Equatorial Current. This system of ocean currents forms the North Atlantic Gyre. All the currents deposit the marine plants and refuse they carry into this sea.

Sargasso_sea

A gyre of refuse and rotting hulks; the ultimate graveyard of ships unwarily trapped in the doldrums; ships and sailors who drifted into the Sargasso Sea and were trapped forever! Here is a perfect description of a maelstrom of misery; a whirlpool of weariness; a prison for those who lose their wind; let their sails luff helplessly, rudderless — lost forever!

 

Well, I have been trapped in the Sargasso Sea for months now. And, there is no laser wielding boy scientist and his father on the horizon to save me. “What do you do when you have writer’s block?” I have been asked. Always, I have been able to answer this question by claiming that writer’s block has NEVER been my problem. But, what about life block? What happens when everything grinds to a halt and you can’t seem to get anywhere? What happens when crisis after crisis throws roadblocks and speed bumps before you? Life happens. Writer’s block is a symptom far down the line from a life that has been drawn slowly, inexorably into the Sargasso Sea!

It is no coincidence that in the midst of this time in my life, I am trying to finish a new manuscript on depression. I can officially announce that Mark Sutton and I have signed a new contract for an update to our depression book, “Conquering Depression”. Our hope is to launch a new website by July 1 showcasing our current book and helping those who are deep in the doldrums of depression. I guess I need to read my own book!

But, where I am right now is far more complex than depression. I once thought idealistically that there was a point in my adult life when my children would be grown up and on their own and my wife and I would have time for all of that traveling together; golden years of maturity and joy as a reward for a lifetime lived well and fully. I thought of this “golden” time as the years before retirement when we would still have the health and the energy to do whatever we wanted and the freedom to pursue decades of postponed dreams.

Instead, life has grown increasingly more demanding and complex. Aging parents demand more attention than our young children every did! Our grown children face challenges of their own my wife and I never had to deal with at that age. Life continues to happen, unrolling before us as a road with potholes and unexpected detours and roadblocks. How naive I was to think that life would ever be truly uncomplicated and simple. Life is not.

Here is why. Life is change. Life is growth. Life is pain. Life is joy. Life is NOT static. Life is dynamic. The only time when there will be no change; no growth; no pain is when we are dead. This is a startling revelation for me. To live is to face pain AND joy. The two cannot be separated. For, it is in the triumph over these challenges that we find the sweetest joy; the greatest contentment.

As my family journeys forward into the unknowable future, we have to cling to the concept that the Sargasso Sea can trap us, but there is a Navigator, a Pilot, a Captain who can lead us out of the doldrums. His breath is our wind; filling our sails with life and movement and joy.

 sails_wind

I cannot even begin to imagine what life would be like trapped in the Sargasso Sea on a rotting hulk of a broken life totally alone without God. In the deepest, darkest moments of despair, God is still there. I may not be able to see Him but the defect is mine, not His. My glasses are clouded by the smears of angrily swiped tears. My eyes are closed against the pain I see in my life. But, if I open them; if I dare to look UP and away from the maelstrom of misery around me, I will see my Redemption is drawing nigh. My sails, though tattered and torn, can still fill with the breath of life and my ship can move out of the dead water into the living Water of life.

ingodslight032711

As my wife tells me, “Breathe!”. Yes, breathe; inspire; pause and let the breath of God renew you. Today, right now, this moment stilled and frozen in time — reach up with open hands, open arms, open heart to God. His warmth, His breath, His life will renew you as it renews me with each drawn breath.

Today, I choose to sail my broken, scarred ship out of the Sargasso Sea; out of the rotting hulks of depression and despair and defeat. I set my sight on a far shore with a fair sunrise and a promise of unconditional love! Join me and leave the Sargasso Sea behind!

 

*A marketing campaign of the 1960s and 1970s asserted that Naugahyde was obtained from the skin of an animal called a “Nauga”. The campaign emphasized that, unlike other animals, which must typically be slaughtered to obtain their hides, Naugas can shed their skin without harm to themselves. Naugahyde also was known as plastic leather or “pleather”.

 

For fun, check out this ‘redo’ of the intro to Jonny Quest in stop motion animation:

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