Hound of Heaven

Faith informs every aspect of my life.  It is central in my decision making process. It guides my thinking and how I observe the world around me.  It influences my view of politics and community involvement. And certainly the most fun part about faith is how it prompts me to engage people in my life.

One of my favorite names for The Author of Faith was coined by English poet, Francis Thompson. He wrote a poem titled The Hound of Heaven. It tells of the process of a man being sought by the Voice and the Feet of a pursuer.  The man ran, even for years, from what he did not want to reckon with. It only took me 17 years to stop running.

If you’ve ever watched a pure-bred hound out in the field pick up the scent of its game, it’s a very fascinating sight.  This cute little dog transforms from a sweet pup into a single-minded animal-tracking machine. Everything goes out of focus for the moment.  The hound won’t stop until it finds what it is looking for.

Over the years, I have the same fascination of watching The Hound of Heaven at work in my life and in the lives of people around me as He seeks us out in compassion and kindness, wooing us into a better, more secure place in the knowledge of a Love that knows no end.  Even now as a grown man I can recall the feeling of joy of being caught by The Hound as a teenager. And life has never been the same since.

But He’s not done. Even still, the Hound is constantly on my trail, looking for me.  He is always inviting me away from waywardness to a better place of peace and rest.

How do I know if the Hound of Heaven is after me? I pay attention to these three encounters:

Dreams – I dream at night constantly and have for years. I have vivid stories played out in my mind, many of which I can recall in extreme, stark detail.  At first I thought they were normal and everyone had them. But when I began to share them with friends, I would get puzzled looks back. I quickly learned that my dreams of this nature were not common and that I should pay closer attention to them.  When I started writing them down, I could see a new meaning in them. I’ve come to recognize the baying of The Hound of Heaven through my dreams. That sound is unmistakable now. He has something for me in them.

Abundant Blessing – I keep a timeline in my journal titled History of Provision. I regularly look back through it and see the times where I have received abundantly and unexpectedly.  One most notably was the gift that enabled me to retire all of Karen’s medical debt in 2012. The points on this map lead me back to my knees in gratitude and awe far more quickly now that I keep this perspective. Gracious Provision is another effective tactic of the Hound. HIs Kindness is the impetus for repentance, not judgment. 

Mysterious People – I love how The Hound brings mysterious people into my life to carry a message to me. It is the unlikely or even uncomfortable source through which He likes to speak.  During my college days, I recall the street preachers on campus who liked to yell condemnations to passersby. And every time there were students ready to take the bait and could not resist the urge to yell back.  At the dorm one night, one of my hallmates was gloating about his exchange with Preacher Jim that day. “What an idiot,” he kept saying. I stopped him and asked, “Yeah, but what if a greater purpose out there was not about him at all, but about getting you to think differently about the course of your life.” The conversation immediately changed from gloating to vulnerable dialogue. The Hound was seeking him. I could see it and had fun watching Him work.

If you have a friend or relative that prays for you regularly, expect a mysterious person to show up and get your attention.  That person will have a word for you. The Hound of Heaven has great hearing and doesn’t let the pleas of these faithful souls go unheard. My mother was that person for me, and still is. I attribute my turn towards a life of faith as a result of her petitions.

I was raised in a faith tradition that taught me I needed to tell people what to believe or else.  I’ve rejected that position long ago. Showing Kindness is now my first concern and far more effective than judgment. I prefer to watch the trail where The Hound of Heaven is going and follow along.  

Listen to The Hound of Heaven by Michael Card

How Do You Get There From Here?

My dad had a number of proverbs that he often quoted to me as an impressionable young man.  Some of which were a bit racy and would incur a chiding from mom. “Jack, don’t use that language with him.”  She especially didn’t like it when he explained to me, “Son, all that glitters is not gold. All that titters is not tit.” But it was his way of teaching me in a memorable way that everything is not as it appears, so don’t let yourself get distracted.

He taught me much in the way of practical skills around the house and farm.  At 10 years old I knew how get under the hood of an F100 to pull and replace spark plugs on a 352ci Ford engine and how to pull the flywheel off a Briggs & Stratton mower motor. In these many tasks, there was usually a procedure that needed to be followed.  He drilled into me that as I took something apart, I should lay the parts out in sequence on a towel so I can put it back together in reverse order and not forget a crucial step. I can still hear him say:

“Remember son, you gotta go through Bowlegs to get to Maud.”

Only the truest of Oklahomans would remotely understand this geographical reference. If you don’t get the implied meaning in this, I won’t take the time to explain it. You might need to pay attention.

Like my engine repair skills, Grief requires a protocol.  I will have to go through Grief to get anywhere on the map.  All roads will eventually lead through Grief. But it’s not a town to move to or set up shop in.  There’s a better town out there. 

Joy is the community where I want to build my house, where the constant year round temperature is Peace and its skies are filled with Hope.

“Remember son, you gotta go through Grief to get to Joy.”

Getting Used To The Light

I feel like I turned a corner a couple of weeks ago in my grief process. Light is returning to my eyes and I am not squinting as much any more.

I am acquainted enough with grief to know that I need not fear this condition.  Isn’t it easy to be fearful when things are going well? Fear is lurking nearby, whispering it’s destructive message.  “Yeah, but It won’t last.”

Anything good in my life will always be subject to this assault.  Blessing, Hope, Prosperity, and Joy are more challenging to embrace than their counterparts.  They only feel more dangerous because Fear is lying to me about their true character.

In some cases, the darkness can feel better or at least feels more familiar.  The more accustomed I become to the dark places in my life, the more my eyes fear that initial pain of adjustment of coming out of a room with very little light into the bright sunshine.

The medical term for this in the physical experience is heliophobia, the fear of light.  It manifests itself in panic and fear when exposed to light. It’s traumatic causes are many, but the base outcome is the same.  It leaves the victim in a state of fear. And fear is never a desirable place to live.

I recall in times past where I distrusted people who seemed to have it together.  My judgement of them took the condescending tone that they probably aren’t being real or authentic or must be living in some kind of bubble. My fear of their light stemmed from the fact that I refused to believe that things could actually be better than what I am experiencing right now. So I must be right and they must be wrong.

I’m happy to repent of that position now.  I’ve come to embrace Grief for a season as a necessary portion of Life.  But it’s not a place that I want to live. I will visit from time to time when invited back there, but the Light is where I choose to dwell and be awake. I see better as a result. And when I see better, I make better choice. And better choices lead to better relationships. On and on it goes.

Light has powerful healing properties and by faith I will rest in my belief that when the night begins to surround me again, tomorrow will eventually come. The sun will rise.  I will feel its warmth. I will see clearly once again.

What You Don’t See

Fits OK?

Words are powerful. I don’t take them for granted. I don’t like verbal fighting for this reason.  I’m afraid I will say something I regret. I’m usually a risk taker, but I am very cautious when it comes to speaking.

In 2011, I was invited to present a talk at TEDx Lincoln on the topic of entrepreneurship. I never get used to seeing myself on camera, and wish I could go back and change my delivery.  But what I wouldn’t change are the words I spoke. What was resonating inside me then still rings true today.

One point in that talk referred this truth: They need to see what you see.

One gift an entrepreneur holds is the ability to see what others don’t, can’t or won’t see. In business circles this is called vision. Seeing the unseen. Holding a clear picture of a better future. Knowing the destination even though the path to get there is uncertain.

But vision is not limited to business.  It’s critical in relationships too. There are times when I need someone to see something for me because I’m stuck and don’t see the way out.

On page 262 of my book, I share a very personal story about a conversation between my sister and me. It was a phone call that changed my perspective on my circumstances. Quite literally, it saved my life.

I was in the depths of despair, standing on the edge of the abyss.  All I could see was a dark pit below my feet. But she saw something different and had the courage to paint that picture for me. I caught a glimpse of her vision that I was missing on the phone that morning.  And I’m deeply grateful.

We all have people like this in our lives.  People that can see what I don’t see. You have at least one you can think of right now.  But there are more. Trust me. There are people all around us that possess vision and the ability to see beauty, joy and peacefulness. 

Go find one of them today. I guarantee they will have a gift for you to open. Ask what they see. And trust their vision.

The Parting Glass

Listen to The Parting Glass by Cara Dillon

Those in attendance probably didn’t notice, but I held a wake last night.

The book signing at Francie & Finch was a culmination of many years and of energy expended to sustain an idea. One that was bigger than the restaurant, Bigger than simple food and drink. And hopefully, bigger than me.

The desire to matter has always been a current flowing through my life. And as I shared the story about my dad from page 39, I think this is where those headwaters began. I was shaped by the example of a simple, yet thoughtful man who loved his wife and children, led a quiet life tending to his trees and rural property and maintained a deep abiding faith that I want to emulate.  I don’t know that dad would ever concur with my sentiment. I’m not sure he sought to make a difference. He just did.

Maybe it’s the generation into which I was born. I’ve never been through war. I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve had most everything I wanted. I’ve lived a comfortable life.  I’ve gained much in my days on earth. Could it be this is the impetus for the question: What would I leave behind?

Over time, as the weight of the dream of bread&cup started to cause my shoulders to sag, it was the desire for it to matter that got me up at 4am the next day to do it all over again.

Someone asked me if last night’s event was a dream come true. I said no. That’s because I never dreamed of writing a book. I didn’t think it was a story worth telling.  Who would want to read about a restaurant that closed. This was the story I told myself.

For me, writing is similar to cooking.  I’m preparing something for you to consume, to take into you and let it have an effect on you. Hopefully it’s to nourish and delight you, but fearfully that it might displease or bore you.  It was this trepidation that kept me from the risk of reaching inside and printing a piece of my soul on pages bound in hardcover for all to see. Was I ready for that?

The thing that changed my mind about creating the book was discovering a different story.  A story about a restaurant that closed is too small. A story about how Hope inspired me, sustained me and is currently holding me up? Now that story might be worth the risk. 

As I left the bookshop, on the way to my car, a familiar feeling hit me.  It’s a feeling I’m well acquainted with. Why was I grieving on a night I should be happy and celebrating?  I had texted Warrior earlier and that’s when he said I was preparing for a wake. I was in the process of laying an important season to rest. He was there before it all began.  He experienced the same personal transformation by Hope that the building of bread&cup forged in me. It was through this lens of perspective he could see to the end.  

The life of the restaurant has concluded, but new Hope is only beginning. The book is my symbol of that transition. 

To Jerry.

Slainte’

Now What

I share these thoughts this morning with a disclaimer.  Grief is a personal journey. It is non-linear. It comes in waves. Sometimes those waves feel oppressive and induce a sense of drowning. Those who are currently in that ocean or have swam in it understand this first hand.

But how one treads that tumultuous water and stays afloat is not easily taught. Responses of some include flailing, dog-paddling, kicking and screaming while others might appear to be swimming safely back to shore.  It’s easy to make comparisons with others who are in the same water. Everyone reacts and responds differently when the loss occurs. There is no right way to do it. And certainly no room for judgment for those who are overwhelmed by it.

With that said, let me share a description of my swimming lessons.

As a young boy with both parents working, I spent a lot of time alone on our 26 acre farm.  Before I was old enough to work in the hayfields or other employment available to country kids, I had to figure out what to do with my time.  There was no cable service with 155 uninteresting and unwatchable channels. Our black&white set only got 3 uninteresting and unwatchable network channels over the rabbit ears antenna. Video games weren’t invented yet, so I had to go about it the old fashioned way.  I had to get creative.

This was the season when I learned how to fish, shoot rabbits, ride a motorcycle, build a treehouse.   I loved doing craft projects. I still have Christmas ornaments I made out of a kit my mom bought me. I got into leatherwork and made belts and wallets.  I even planted my own tomatoes in a plywood box that I also made. What 11 year old kid does all that?

Oddly enough, being alone is not my biggest fear now as a widower.  I learned a young survival skill that would serve me into adulthood.  I knew how to be alone. That was not going to be my hurdle.

Mine would be regrets. And what to do with them.

One wave I was blindsided by was unresolved conflict.  Remembering a fight or argument that will never get settled. Words that were said that leave me with regret, knowing I can never take them back, never being able to say “I’m sorry.

This is what washes over me.

I tell you this because you might have a chance to settle the score with someone before it’s too late.  What’s your inner voice saying? Take the time to make things right.

Make today count.

How Are You?

I can tell by the hesitance on your face before you say it.  You try to catch yourself before the words come out of your mouth because you don’t want to do anything wrong. It’s because you care and you want to know, so let me give you permission to go ahead and ask.

How are you doing?

With me, its ok to ask. You aren’t upsetting me or opening up any new painful memories.  I’m accustomed to living with pain and the tears that accompany it. I’ve learned to hold them in a different place.  I don’t despise the pain any longer. I honor it because I am honoring the reason for why it hurts. The pain is precious because the life of the one I lost is precious.  Weeping is just another form of respect.

When Karen was first diagnosed with Stage IIc Ovarian Cancer in 2010, my first compulsion was to sit down and write about it.  I had just received the bad news from the surgeon in the consultation room. She was in post-op recovery and I was alone in the hospital waiting room.  It would be a few hours before I would be able to see her. This is when I began to embrace the gift I have been given. I went home to chronicle the story.

Its out of this compulsion that I still get up this morning and keep writing ten years later.  Something is creating internal pressure in my heart and words are my relief valve. This is why I’m not afraid of the question.  I want you to know, need you to know and your question creates new connection. Your question tells me that you see me, that I’m not invisible. Karen loved to have me tell her story for her so she didn’t have to.  A new blogpost gave guests permission to go there when they saw her in the restaurant. Who knows, I might be telling your story, too. I may be articulating what you’re feeling, but you haven’t found the words yet. Several authors that have done this for me. I’m grateful for their assistance.

The best way I can describe my compulsion to write is that I’m just a guy with a flashlight, looking around in the dark, trying to find the way to get out of the dark cave and back up into daylight.  Call me a watchman, watching out for anyone else in the cave with me. If you trust me and are ready to go, you may want to tag along. Together we’ll find our way out. And I’ve emerged with some new friends to enjoy in the light again.

These blogposts serve as progress points on my map. I leave them here because somebody I don’t even know might find them and use them to discover an exit from their own dark cave.

About Sunday night, I’m feeling back to normal, even worked out this morning. I don’t know what that heart episode was.  I have some theories, but for now the cardiologist doesn’t seem to concerned. I’ve been under a regimen of ketosis and intermittent fasting for the last two weeks. If you’ve ever done this, you know the transition this requires the body to undergo. So I’m not too concerned.

Thanks for asking.

About Last Night

I had a health episode that caused me to spend a few hours in the ER last night.  I had just finished signing books Sunday afternoon and said goodbye to some visiting friends.  As I closed the door, I felt my breathing change and had to sit down. My heart was fluttering in my chest and beating irregularly. There wasn’t any pain involved which was a consolation, but the uncertainty of what was happening in my body was troubling.

I live alone now.  This means I have new decisions to make that I’ve never had to decide before.  The chief of which was, “What do I do now?” Beforehand, Karen would have made the call for me to take me to the hospital.  That is not an option any longer. So the burden of choice is now up to me.

Initially I thought I should wait it out and see if it passes.  I’ve had this same feeling before, but it usually subsides within minutes, not prolonged like this one.  About 45 minutes into it, I could tell this wasn’t going away. But it still was hard to know what to do. My inner dialogue proceeded: Should I call someone?  What if it’s not serious? What if it is? What should I do?

My conclusion was to drive to the ER and get it checked out. And that’s when it got worse.  When you say shortness of breath to a hospital staff member, you become an immediate priority.  The nurse quickly moved me to a triage bed and started the diagnosis.

The results showed I was having PVC’s, premature ventricular contractions.  The doctor said these are common, which explains why I’ve had them before. His description was “common, but not normal.” Yes people have them often, and usually not serious, but not something to be ignored.  And they most certainly don’t last an hour.” He affirmed my decision to bring myself in.

While lying in the hospital bed, alone in Room 17, my mind started in on me. The dark voices were near. They had the same tone I recall from 2016, when my world came crashing in and it was clear that I was about to lose everything.  I remember standing at the edge of the abyss of despair and feeling hopeless. These demons were back. But not for long.

I recall the day it became clear that no matter how dark my circumstances got, I still have options.  I get to choose which ones I will keep and which ones to burn.

Watching Karen die a long, slow death had some positive effects on me.  I’m less afraid of death now because I cannot control death. I couldn’t for her and I can’t for me.  It’s as if each of us have an invoice with a number of days on it. When that invoice comes due, death has permission to come collect, but not a day sooner or longer. And since I don’t know the number on the invoice, I have a choice to rest or worry.

As  the word got out that I was in the ER, some trusted brothers showed up.  I asked The Son of Jephunah to read some of my promises. I can’t describe the picture in my mind as the words floated over me.  Beautiful comes across like a cliche, but it’s all I got right now.

It elevated me above whatever was happening to my ticker and took me to a higher place of gratitude. I am a blessed man and I always have been. But three years ago I didn’t believe that. I’m grateful for the transformation.

But mostly I’m grateful for the beautiful people in my life.  I am a wealthy man with friends of a lifetime and new friends I’ve yet to get to know yet.

I can’t control the number of my days, but I can control fear. It was a pleasure last night to tell it to leave Room 17.  I’m remarkably better this morning. Don’t worry about me. In fact, don’t worry about anything. It really is a choice.

Make today count.

Hippie Boy

Listen to Hippie Boy by Caroline’s Spine

The power of music is manifest when I can hear a song, even at a lo-fi quality, and the spirit of the song reaches through whatever broadcast medium is delivering it.  I distinctly remember the viral video of Paul Potts’ audition on Britain’s Got Talent in 2007 Within seconds of his performance, I and everyone else in the audience was moved.  What makes music do that to me?

I discovered this next song because it had the same impact on me, as it came via my car radio in 1997.  I was driving my family back home through northern Oklahoma at night. Everyone in the car was asleep and I was moving the tuning knob slowly through the noise to find something to help me stay awake.  The only thing that came in clearly was college radio KXZY out of Stillwater. I stopped and listened.

The very next song I heard over the airwaves invoked unexpected emotion as I passed the Perry exit.

I waited, hoping for a song ID, but nothing. And since Shazaam wasn’t invented, I had no immediate chance to find out who it was.  So I wrote some key words and phrases that I remembered and put them in my pocket for safe keeping

When I got home, I went to the music department at Barnes&Noble and asked the clerk if she could help me find a song.  I thought it might be a long-shot, but after some searching in the database, the title Hippie Boy by Caroline’s Spine appeared.  They actually had a copy in the store, so I bought it and continued my investigation at home.

The lyrics are sung in the voice of a disappointed father, who expresses contempt for his son who hasn’t turned out like he wanted:

My hippie boy don’t want to be a man

My hippie boy don’t want to understand

My hippie boy lives in a volkswagon van

The angst felt something like the fury of You Oughta Know by Alanis Morisette released two year prior. Then at 1:58, the guitars escort the father’s disgust and turns it into rage.

My hippie boy won’t get up off his ass

He don’t care if he fail or if he pass

My hippie boy….I know he’s been smoking grass

It was this point in the song that I realized I was being invited into the pain of a young man, not of the father. It was this same pain that I was hearing in many of the college students I was working with at the time.  Kids that held deep wounds from their own fathers but didn’t know what to do with it despite their pleading attempts to find love and be accepted.

And he said “come sit beside me

Tell me ’bout the things you adore

And please don’t remind me

That I am not the boy you’d hoped for…”

Song: Hippie Boy
Artist: Caroline’s Spine
Album: Monsoon
Released: April 1997

This song made me stop and think about my role as a dad.  My kids were 6 and 3 at the time. What would my legacy be to them? Would it be a song like Hippie Boy, where dad didn’t get what he wanted? Or would I rise to a higher place, one of compassion, of listening and showing empathy?

And what could I offer those who aren’t my children, but those who have been mercilessly rejected by their own fathers?

Behavior isn’t the problem.  It’s the pain underneath that is provoking it.  And fathers have inflicted lots of pain. Address pain and behavior is more easily understood. This awareness changed my perspective. 

All because of a song. 

Your Turn

I’ve written about some of my important songs this week.  I’d like to know some of yours. Would you post one song in a comment below? It could be something that spoke to you during a hard season, or uplifts you no matter what the circumstances. From your songs, I’ll put together a playlist my my own enjoyment.  

Music builds connection for me. Thanks for letting me know a part of your story.