To my friends

I don't know how to share this, I formally started this a long time ago, but in all reality, I think this has been something I've been working on my entire life.

This is my story, and I hope my story can help you heal. My prayer is that the motion from grief to grief will be rooted in the narrative of hope.

Humanities collective courage to face pain head on has flowed over into my own heart. Some of these stories will be new or old, but I hope you can see the narrative and find some comfort. Feel free to read this in the future, when the hurt is a little less raw - your need of healing is far more important to me than my own, I write this not for sympathy, but because I care deeply for you.

A Child's Favourite Word

I think you are a lot like me, sentimental with strong emotional impression of things that have happened to us in the past. My childhood was relatively beautiful. My parents loved me, raised me with some strong values, provided for me, and did their absolute best to raise me among my three other siblings. Childhood was a moment when I felt whole - I think that's the way it should be. Children should have hope, imagination and most of all joy. I feel like I had those things. I was surrounded by nature, good friends, and the simple rural life. I loved to ask questions. I remember asking my family so many questions! I remember thinking about things like, creation, death, life and love. Unlike other children who were interested in taking apart toys to learn about them, I was interested in dissecting ideas to understand what moves human thought forward. I loved politics, and would love listening to the discussions of some of my relatives who are involved in politics. I loved listening to my father's sermons and conversations - I simply had a hunger to understand. I am programmed to want to understand. This would be both a wonderful catalyst for learning, but also a torment, as many things in life simply don't have answers.

"Why" eventually comes to a wall, this is something every father knows when they look into their children's eyes. I wish I could write out all the reasons why you have had to experience the things you have. I wish I had all the answers for you. The childlike crying and weeping over loss - I've seen that look and heard that voice, the wandering in the darkness, and I knew you've been at that wall.

I've spent so many years asking the question why? And all I can do is fall into the arms of my Father and simply trust that I will never know everything. We remain children, that wide eyed fascination and determination to understand the why's in life. We have gotten good, oh we have gotten very good with philosophy, science, psychology and theology at coming to some answers - but some things are beyond reason and emotion, some things simply hurt so deep that they reduce us back to our childhood questioning - and that's OK. Science has tried to map out a nice neat way for us to heal. I'm so sorry for the things people are going to say to you and have said to you. I'm sorry for the people who will pretend they understand when they don't. I'm sorry for the platitudes and the callous things that will be said - forgotten quickly by those who speak them, but words that will ring hurting in your ears. I'm sorry that life sometimes reduces us to the childlike state of being barely conscious.

Childhood can be a safe place when one has a loving Father however. Autonomy is not the solution to the human condition, but the moment we cut ourselves off from the divine. Recovered Joy comes from journeying back to the Source of life with each other. It's just the times when we are let down that keep us from trusting. I don't know loss like you have. I've never had to bury my son or daughter. I have loved and experienced the inexplicable spiritual and biological relationship of parenthood and the paralysis that begins to take over my skin at the mere thought of losing my child is too much to bear. I can only hope to help you keep breathing.

Dropping Class and Dropping Lungs

I dropped out of school when I was 14. There were a variety of reasons why I did, severe anxiety and a misguided pride in my own abilities. Oh, I thought I was "fighting the oppressive system". Screw the man! You can't manipulate me! Punk rock and all that junk.

I also dropped out because two girls in music class made fun of me every single day.Two girls would mock the way I played trumpet every single time. They made fun of my lips. They said I looked so weird and gross when I played. Silly teasing yes. They weren't mean girls, but I was and continue to be a fragile human being. I love music. I actually adore it to the core of my being. I am also extremely hard on myself when it comes to performing in front of others. These girls made me feel alone. I wanted to run and one day I did.

I think that's the first time I actually believed I was an ugly human being. Isn't it ridiculous - who cares about the opinion of two 14 year old girls! I started telling myself lies that stuck. In the past 19 years I don't think I have gone a single month without hating the way I look. Men aren't allowed to have body image problems though right?

Why do we do that? Why do we allow others to have such a profound impact on us? When we look at ourselves, shouldn't we see the divine spark of beauty? Are we not, after all, closer to ourselves than anyone else? How can we see beauty in the others that we love, but not ourselves? Why do we rip ourselves in two? Why do we believe the lie that we are incomplete apart from the affirmation of others?

"Did someone hurt you many years ago? Did someone desert you when you needed them the most? And the pain stayed with you everywhere you'd go, And it's been so long now but you just can't seem to let it go,
Maybe it's time to tell it you don't need it anymore.
Did you lose someone that you loved? Did they move far off or do you picture them above? There's an emptiness inside you and it's worse when you're alone,And it feels so heavy now like you're carrying the weight of a stone,
Maybe it's time to tell it you won't carry it anymore. We ain't got a long time and there's a lot to do But first you gotta decide to leave some things behind
Maybe it's time to leave your chains behind
Did you ever love someone so much that you can't explain? When you're with them it's like thunder keeps rolling through your brain, Maybe you've had someone before, but this one is not the same, You can feel it in the depths of your soul but you still can't bring yourself to say it,
Maybe it's time for me to tell you I can be without you anymore." 
- The Milk Carton Kids - Maybe It's Time

You are beautiful. I've seen you struggle to accept it, and it has been one of the most profoundly inspiring things I have ever seen. You were hurt so deep and brushed aside by those more concerned by their own feelings than your own trauma. You put others ahead of yourself, time and time again. Not many know your struggles but I do. The moments I get to peak inside and see your brokenness, I also see a beauty that reflects like the sun - of where you were from and where you are now and where you are heading. If you can beat this, then so can I.

I finally worked up the courage to go back to school. I saw a therapist and he really helped me overcome some of my anxiety. The next year however, I was faced with the "collapsed lung era".
It goes like this: left lung, right lung, left lung, right lung, left lung (surgery), right lung (surgery), left lung (surgery).

After every single time I would ask the doctor, why is this happening? And every single time they would tell me they didn't know. "It is more common in tall thin people". Great, one of the things I absolutely hated about myself, not only made me feel unattractive, but was robbing me of a normal teenage life. I know I've told you of my love of track and field. I was so above and beyond kids my age from as far as I can remember until I had my first collapsed lung at 15. I remember an Olympian who trained in my track club thinking I needed to give it an honest go. I have never made my peace with this. Every four years during the Olympics there will come a time I will weep uncontrollably. I remember the fear, anger and anxiety. Why was this happening to me? I remember the one and only time the collapsed lung required a chest tube, I was moments from dying. When the pain killers wore off, I remember having to really come to grips with the fact that I almost died. I remember those moments, sitting on my bed, waiting to go into surgery, and never fully understanding what was going to happen. "We will try to go in with cameras, but there is always the chance we will have to open you completely up and use our hands." Not knowing whether my body would be marred by a large scar three times was so terrifying. After the first surgery, I woke up with an epidural in my spine (of which I did not consent too, which I still do not understand, and have been told is against the rules to perform while a patient is sedated). In the ICU after the surgery, there was spinal fluid leaking from the point of entry. I remember throwing up hundreds of times, and shaking, not knowing what was happening. The second surgery, I received an epidural as well. I remember the doctor applying the needle, and me sobbing. He was a gentle man and told me it was going to be OK, and I wasn't crying because of the needle, but just... this... was my life? Why? Why was I here again?

I thought it was over, and then it happened again. Another surgery. More anxiety. More tears.

I also remember times of inexplicable peace. Times when I literally could do nothing but trust that the God of the universe knew exactly was happening to me. I have to believe that - I have to believe that there is a God on a throne who sees time from beginning to end, who loves us like a father loves his children. The strange thing is that I don't think I have ever felt as close to God like I did during some of those weeks I spent in a hospital ICU. My experiences were not "good", but God himself was, and that is what has kept me holding on to Christ. He suffered evil but conquered it; he died for hope. He knows I need him above anything else.

To Be Drug Free, or Not to be Drug Free, That is the Question

"Dude, I hear you are using narcotics, you want me to get you some?"

Said a high school drug dealer.

1. How did a local drug dealer find out I was using drugs?
2. Why is a local drug dealer trying to sell me drugs?
3. Am I starting to have a drug problem?

I guess the first clue to having a drug problem is the stealing of painkillers from family and friend's medicine cabinets. But they are legal right? It never really got "bad"? I really make no judgements on those who use drugs - but we've all seen drugs absolutely destroy people. All I can really do is talk about my short little drug story, which is probably all too common.

I guess having a PCA morphine pump those months in the hospital might have had an impact? And then came pethidine. Man, I don't know which doctor suggested it, but pethidine was instant pain relief and joy. I learned that if I asked for it, someone would come and give it to me. Ask and ye shall receive. I wasn't ready to enter the realm of the normal upon discharges and embarked on my opioid quest. Turns out lots of people have them and people don't seem to miss a few here and there. Turns out if you take a whole bunch you can do stupid stuff and not really feel anything and people find it funny and who doesn't want to be funny? Turns out doing drugs does make playing live music really fun.

Turns out you can also do too much and:

Pass out in a ditch.
Make an ass of yourself in front of your friends.
Cause stomach inflammation and ulcers.
Cause your grades to plummet.
Make you paranoid.

That conversation in the parking lot in high school was enough for me and I stopped immediately. Thankfully I never got addicted, but honestly, the drugs wasn't even the real problem. There was something happening in my mind and in my soul; a darkness beginning to take shape. I think I sensed it early on and that was my way of avoiding it. The questions in my mind started in whisper and soon were pounding.

Why did He created a free world where evil things happen, not coercing people to love when they ought to, or keep a heart beating to spare the heart break, or stop an earthquake to save thousands? Are you a God who is distant or a God who moves alongside us and is with us? Was God crying for me when I was lonely in the hospital room, my basement or after almost every gig? Does God understand pain? Why does God let me suffer when I dream? Why have I never been "born again"? What happened when I got baptised? Did God really say to me then: "I'm with you now. Your sins are forgiven, you are covered with my grace"?

Do you exist? Do I exist? Why am I so unhappy? Why do I think about suicide every day?

Is that why you are still doing drugs? Are those the questions you are running from? It seems like you are running or at least that you have walked away.

I've been tempted to walk away countless times, yet He was always there. Not in a genie-type-answers-my-wish-god kind of way, but in an absolutely terrifying King kind of way which makes his sacrifice all the more baffling. He knows the darkness of my mind and yet still chooses to give me light.

It was pure hell when questions morphed into a deep dark inner dialogue. I always believed that life fit into nice neat and tidy black and white boxes, but now I wasn't so sure. Something wasn't right. I started to question everything. Was God real? Why does he rarely speak to me? The world didn't look clear, as in, the world literally lacked visible colour. I started crying. Weeping. Screaming for hours. My conscience simply stopped working; I felt guilty over every sin, and felt guilty for feeling guilty because I was suppose to be saved and forgiven. Food gave no taste, my senses stopped working. It was either nothing or weeping. I tried to prime my emotions but to no avail. I was stuck in a cycle, and finally I found something to comfort me; a thought that helped me fall asleep at night; suicide. Stop breathing and maybe I would be free. I consumed melancholy art, my mind had become my own personal Guernica. My life was fading to black.

The dark recess. That desolate place. Depression. The robing of joy. Those dailythoughts of suicide. The wandering late at night staring at cars barely holding myself back. The spot in my basement. The suicide notes. The fear. The hearing of voices and losing myself. Losing my words. The fear of schizophrenia. The loneliness. The wondering if it's going to happen again. The realisation that a third time might be it. The 27 club. The real reason I am opposed to owning a gun. The treatment. The side effects. The treatment. The side effects. The treatment. The side effects. The healing.

Healing is possible. Please continue on the path of healing. I'm worried about you and cheering you on. You're never alone.

That Mirror Called Social Media

Don't you love the beautiful people on Instagram who have life all figured out?

The more I get to know myself, the more I realise how absolutely obsessed I am with talking about me. Enter the realm of social media and we are a generation plagued with self-congratulation. Add the abysmal failure of education placing ourselves at the centre of the universe and what do you get? People who absolutely suck at helping hurting people. Helping involves putting aside one's own issues and actually putting someone else first. It involves being OK with not actually being able to identify with someone else's problems because life isn't always about us. Some of the kindest and loving people I have in my life have never experienced depression for a single moment. They just love me. Why is the one job, the job of telling people we love them when they are in pain, so difficult? I hate selfishness. I hate that in certain moments I talk and talk a lot. I hope this isn't more noise, and I hope that I am helping.

Silence isn't natural for us anymore. We are filling our time with a constant flow of digital distractions. It's more important for some to get that perfect selfie than to actually care for another human being. Digital relationships are relationships kept at arm's length; safe and have the semblance of intimacy but lacking genuine substance. When I am silent I begin to connect the dots of our connected world and the deep sense of loneliness I experience at the end of most day. I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps some of us are using our "friends" as a means to an end to further that oh so important sense of self-importance. In the grand scheme of this ancient planet our life is but a blink. We see the sunrise and the sunset approached so quickly. This infinitesimal life is both beautiful and cruel. It is understandable why so many of us refuse to consider the life of the other as infinitely more valuable than the self.

Nonetheless, true joy always will reside in mending another's heart. When the selfish soul moves into eternity, we receive it like a heavy sigh of relief and I wonder if our society is on its last breath. You see it too, with the world droning on obsessed with isolation. You're a human being trying to connect with others that are increasingly becoming more machine than flesh and blood. Somehow "love thy neighbour" has turned into "love thyself", and what better way to show the heart's true desire than to pine after that which is pleasurable. But pleasure is a hot fire that burns out fast and leaves little warmth in this life. You want embers to keep you warm for all time. I can guarantee you won't be able to find them apart from showing kindness. You'll see that kindness has a unique way of returning home. A rich young man seeking yet another self-indulgent reward was once told by the kindest man to ever walk the earth to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. He walked away and never understood what it actually meant to be human: to care for this earth and the creatures in it. To only please oneself with self-love is to actually hate oneself. Look around and take in the consciousness that is the human mind. We are beautiful not in a vacuum, but as fellow children of God.

I'm sorry for the things that have been told to you about God. That he hates you and despises you and that he could only ever possibly love you unless you belong to a certain religion. The promise of life with the threat of destruction has always eaten away at my soul. Is God the beautiful King who sends his Prince to rescue the poor peasant from his misery only to destroy his meager home if he refuses? Is that the good news? I can't find it in my heart to call that good. I shudder at the thought of human pain and I have to believe that is the Spirit's voice in my inner soul. I have to believe that God, who inexplicably became man to love those who tortured him, in every single moment in time longs to save each and every last of his children. Don't for a second think you are outside of the family of God. Know that he sits, as a loving father, with his face towards you, longing for you return from the folly that called you from his good home. Why God lets us wander and suffer ultimately he only knows but don't be afraid to come home.

Fear and Trembling

I remember the exact moment it happened. I was visiting my childhood best friend years ago with my younger sister. We went and visited his parents house out in the country, a place I spent many weekends. It is an old red brick house, with a beautiful property, a serene country view, a place where childhood imagination ran wild. Walking in the back yard, I remember the trampoline that we spent hours playing "super heroes" on. I remember feeling free.

We came to the end of the lawn and stood there looking out into a field - a field full of overgrown grass. The plan was to continue walking but something stopped me. At that exact moment neurons had formed in my brain which prevented me from taking one step further. Until this very day I almost daily fearfully think about snakes and still struggle to walk through long grass. I can tell you every single time someone has told me where they have seen a snake. I have repeated nightmares about them attacking me. It's an irrational fear that takes a mental toll.

And it came to fruition in one of my favourite childhood places, a reminder that no place is immune from the human condition.

But that fear faded away another day.

"Dad has collapsed at church. He has no pulse, and they are doing CPR to try to save him."

A new fear. A horrible fear. A situation that had been in my mind's preparation for six years.

I wasn't prepared.

I ran and grabbed my family and sister and ran out to the car.

"I'm not ready for this God."

When my dad suffered congestive heart failure 6 and a half years ago, it was a reminder that mortality should come as no surprise. We all, I think, were aware that every year with dad was a blessing, and we all have tried to make the most of our time with him. I reminded myself all the time that my dad's heart, which functions at around 25% strength, would most likely never survive another heart failure.

"My dad is going to die today." I said as we raced to the St. Thomas General Hospital. My preparation did not prepare me.

When we arrived, my dad was conscious. They had induced paralysis, and begun to chill his body to give him a fighting chance at life. I learned later they had to defib him several times to get a pulse, and he was in cardiac arrest the entire time at the church and in the ambulance en route until the hospital. We all told him we loved him. My mom told him he would have to preach his sermon another time. He raised his eyebrows. We all laughed and knew that was what he was intending to accomplish. He left for London to the Critical Care Trauma Centre, and in our minds I think we all felt that our last moment with dad had just occurred. The induced him into a coma, placed him on life support and we waited. I was waiting for my father to die.

The waiting was the most difficult part. The problem with going into cardiac arrest is that the brain often times is damaged due to the lack of oxygen beyond it's ability to provide life. The fact that my dad had been in cardiac arrest for twenty minutes made things look very bleak. At the time of his admittance, he was the patient in the CCTC in the worst condition. All we could day was wait. The first 48 hours are the most critical, and the state of the brain a delayed discovery.

It was in those first two days that I really understood what prayer is - a soul in turmoil pleading for comfort and holding on to hope. My dad loved Jesus. He died on the day we remember the power of the resurrection and new life. He died in his church, with people who love him. He had loved us with genuine fatherly love every day of our lives. He had imparted profound wisdom. He exemplified humility. None of us felt any regret of the life we had lived as a family. The hope we clung onto in our prayers was real, and changed us, comforted us and made us strong.

I had also had a incredible conversation with dad the previous Monday. I had just gone to see a psychiatrist to start a new medical treatment for my depression, and dad had come later in the evening to help with my daughters while my wife Jen had gone to work. We talked about life and death. We talked about our ill health, and how it allows us to care and comfort others. We talked about our ultimate hope in Jesus, that he would one day restore his body and my mind. He opened up about the death of his father, something I have only heard him do once before. He passed onto me the wisdom his father had passed on to him: "We never know how many days we have, so let us be thankful and use each day to love and know the Lord more." I remember thinking to myself that this is what I would say about my dad at his funeral.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."

I cannot explain how I felt looking down at my father's comatose body. I tried reading my father's favourite verses but I couldn't get them out without crying. I remember my wonderful family, living in that waiting room praying and crying and laughing. I will never forget the times we laughed. I remember a pastor once talking about how he knew a family had loved each other if they laughed during their grief, and my memories of our family's slivers of joy in that suffering made me feel incredibly privileged. I felt numb, but I also felt like a part of a most beautiful community - a community of family. I attempted to fill the pastoral void that my father would have filled in a moment like that, and once again the peace that I had felt years ago arrived in yet another hospital.

The things that will flash before my eyes when I die will be: holding my daughters for the first time, waking up the first and last morning beside my wife, and watching my father come back to life.

As my mother, uncle and myself were sitting with my dad a pastor friend of his came in and started praying the words of Isaiah 40: "but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." When he said amen, my father started to awake from his coma. He is a statistical anomaly, the (literally) 1 out of 100 patients who recover with no brain damage. The nurses were (literally) dancing and one of them even (literally) said he had never seen that happen before.

No one expected this to happen and of course I am happy to have experienced it, but you need to understand that had my father died, we would have been OK. Life is a series of beautiful and dark moments and God is working in them all.

I actually struggle to accept that 99 other family's had to bury their fathers. Another day will come when the feet of nurses will not be dancing. Am I extremely grateful for the privilege of more time? Absolutely. It also however, has reminded me that life is extremely short.

“It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Upon reflection I realise that only way to move forward is to make one giant leap of faith. Having a leap of faith is hardly popular these days, but I wonder if the arrogance of so many theologians would be remedied if they would simply integrate the word mystery into their thinking. Life is faith. All of us are placing our faith in something. I have yet to meet in my entire life an irreligious person - it is who we are. Something has happened in me over my entire life that has led me to be absolutely convinced that God is remedying the human condition through the person of Jesus Christ. It may sound corny; but in all of it, the deepest of lows and highest of highs, the meaningless and the meaningful, my human experience has pointed me to the need for redemption. All of it.

I cannot tell you how much I care for you and how much I desperately want you to take a leap of faith with me. I can't prove any of it, but I can tell you I am convinced that the gospel is the most profound and life changing truth you will ever experience. You are in for a long road, and I pray every day I will live to walk along side you for many years. I've made mistakes, and you will no doubt be able to see when I've let you down, but I promise to point you to the most perfect Father who sent his son to show you how much he loves you. That's it. For all the questions and theologies and experiences and highs and lows that's it. He. Loves. You. He created us yet we called him our enemy. He showed us the path to peace and we crucified him. He did it all to redeem the human experience and reveal to us that he moves, weeps and laughs with us every step of the way. I know that doubt will cripple you along the way, but if you keep the eyes of faith focused ahead you will be OK. I know you'll be OK.

Your friend,

Matthew

Comments

Anonymous said…
Matt,

Thank you.

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