It’s Simple, Really

Much of life is actually very simple.

Building a business, getting a college degree, and walking across the country are all simple processes. Just keep doing the work day after day. Eventually, you’ll see results.

Cooking a gourmet meal is simple. Just follow the recipe and you’ll end up with a delectable dinner the whole family will enjoy.

But none of these things is easy.

It’s not easy walking to class when it’s snowing outside, then sitting through a boring lecture, only to trudge back through the snow after class is over. You end up with wet feet and a sour mood.

It’s not easy putting in long hours to be your own boss. You slave in the evenings and on weekends when everyone else you know is at home with their family, or out having a good time.
When we’re in these type of situations, we often wonder if it’s worth it to keep on. Will I gain anything in the end? Would I be better off just quitting now while I’m ahead?

No doubt these are valid questions, and we should probably take time to answer them.

But we should always remember there was a reason we began our pursuit in the first place. We had some kind of dream that grabbed hold of us and never let go. Something that got stuck in our head and wouldn’t let us forget about it.

Some kind of vision that called out and enabled us to see something better for our lives. A more fulfilling career, a business of our own, or just hanging a diploma on the wall and calling ourselves a college graduate.

Whatever it is, if it was important enough to begin it, then it’s probably important enough to finish it.

Notice I said probably. Priorities change. Life happens. Sometimes we have to stop and reorganize things. That’s OK.

That may mean we have to alter our goals to reflect our current life situation.

Sometimes that means we need to double down and work even harder to make the original dream happen.

When life smacks you in the face, it’s up to you to decide what to do.

Keep going. Or quit.

Which choice will you regret more in one year?

Now choose the other one.

Memories of a Wonderful Old Building

The huge doors creaked as if squealing for mercy every time they swung open. Once passing through the old doors into the dim foyer, the darkness seemed almost comforting. How many times did I cross that threshold? I could probably do some quick calculations and come up with an answer, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the old Methodist church was a significant part of my childhood, playing host for many wonderful experiences of the first 15 years of my life. These memories will remain with me the rest of my life.

I don’t know with certainty how old that building really is, however, I believe it dates back to the late 1800’s. It always was dark and musty-smelling, especially in the basement. The familiar “chonk” every time the old basement door from the outside would open or close still rings fresh in my memory.

When I was very young, maybe four or five years old, the church sometimes held potluck dinners in the basement. Specific memories of the food have faded over the years, but I do remember having a great deal of fun playing with my friend Dana. In fact, at that time she and I were the only kids our age who attended the church. While the adults were gathered in the fellowship hall, we would sequester ourselves in one of the Sunday school rooms down a short hallway. We alternated eating and playing with the assortment of toys stashed in a toy box.

One dinner in particular never fails to give me a chuckle every time I think about it. Dana and I were playing with a fire station with a crank handle on top that produced a very loud fire engine noise. It was my favorite of all the toys. I loved grabbing hold and spinning it for all I was worth. During this particular dinner I chose to do just that during the pastor’s prayer to bless the food. I’ll never forget the almost total quiet of the building, all except for the pastor’s gentle voice, being broken by the wail of the fire engine. I couldn’t help but start giggling. I’m sure Dana was laughing as well, although she at least attempted to shush me so that we wouldn’t get into trouble. I don’t remember if any adults came in to scold us, but it would have been worth it just imagining the startled reactions on their faces as their quiet thanksgiving was interrupted by a shrieking siren from the next room over.

When you’re not even 10 years old, it is difficult to imagine that whatever environment you find yourself in is not only typical of its kind, but is actually the best there is. This was the case with that dank old church. It was a tiny congregation; we had maybe 20 or 30 people on any given Sunday morning service. The attendees took up but a fraction of the huge sanctuary upstairs.  We tended to spread out over the rear half of it. For me, it was as natural as anything to have three or four empty rows of pews between you and the next person.

For all its dark mustiness, both in the basement and up in the sanctuary, it was a beautiful old building. The high ceiling of the upstairs foyer supported a large chandelier that helped light the otherwise dim entryway. Rows of large, colorful stained glass windows adorned both sides of the sanctuary, filling the room with the natural light of each Sunday morning.


Two gently sloping aisles led down to the front of the sanctuary to a table with a candelabra in the center. Just as worship service would begin, two people would slowly walk simultaneously down either aisle with brass candle lighters in hand to light its two candles. At the end of the service, the same two individuals were responsible for extinguishing the candles. Dana and I had this privilege on a number of occasions.

Behind the pulpit and the choir loft, in the very front of the sanctuary, hung a picture of a long-haired man in a white robe. I remember one of his hands was lifted slightly as if making a point. One Sunday I asked my mother, as only a small child can do, if that was a picture of God, or of Jesus. I guess she told me Jesus, because from then on it was clear to me that Jesus looked like any other man.

Two sets of creaky stairs, mirror images of each other,  ascended from the basement to either side of the foyer. When going upstairs for the worship service, I usually chose the set on the left, the ones just past the only restrooms in the church. They felt more homey, more like they were “mine”. Maybe this was become they emerged nearest the side of the sanctuary that my family always sat on. Dana and her family generally used the stairs on the right, which were situated over the top of a storage room. As one might guess, her family sat on the opposite side of the sanctuary, almost directly across from us. I suppose we’re all creatures of habit; I seldom used the stairs on the right. Even at that young age, something about it just didn’t seem right. Those stairs were foreign to me in a way, not comfortable like “mine” were.


A balcony sat above the rearmost part of the sanctuary. From my earliest memories of the church, I recall that my older brothers played in the band that perched themselves in the balcony during worship. One brother played the trombone, while the other played the trumpet. One of Dana’s older brothers was also in the band, as were a few of the other older kids in the church. My sister often played the organ downstairs in the front, behind the pulpit. I guess after a while interest in the band waned, because in later years, the only instruments we had were the piano and organ. Sometimes I would take the stairs leading up to the balcony, just to see what treasure I might discover up there. The only things I ever remember seeing were a few stands to hold sheet music, and maybe various other odds and ends. No treasure was to be found anywhere.

About 13 years ago, when my wife and I were visiting my mom, I borrowed a key to the church so I could reminisce for a while. Everything seemed smaller than I had remembered it, but much was still the same: the beautiful stained glass, the old Sunday school rooms, and of course, that old musty smell. One Sunday school room looked like it was being used as a catch-all for whatever didn’t have a place. In it I discovered a few of the old toys I remembered playing with (alas, the fire station was nowhere to be found); that truly took me back to preschool days. Then I glanced up at a cork bulletin board hanging on the wall. On it was scrawled my name just as I had written it long ago, and judging by the way it looked, not long after learning to write in cursive. I ran my fingers across the letters, amazed that it was still there.

All these elements of the old Methodist church– the Sunday school rooms, the stairways, the sanctuary, the balcony, as well as the members of the congregation — still make regular appearances in my dreams. Of course, the dreams don’t recreate the exact church experience as it was back then. The time frame is almost always in the present, often with people or elements from my adult life overlaid on those old childhood memories inside the church. What does this say about me as an adult? Is my subconscious brain hopelessly nested in the distant past?

I was sad when my sister told me recently that the church is closing its doors. I guess as members of the small congregation aged and died, without many (if any) new members coming in, it just became a matter of economics. I wonder what will become of the old building now.

The Lazy River

Below is a piece I wrote a few months back, when I was in a much different place spiritually and emotionally.  I’m posting it here now because when I recently went back and reread it, I was stunned by the raw emotion within it.  I have edited it only slightly for content, so please forgive the grammar.  I have written a response to this piece, which follows this post.


I want to believe and trust in you Lord.  I want so badly for this to be the norm to be who I am just like it was years and years ago – back when it was easy to trust you and I didn’t question everything.  I just took your word as it came, realized and accepted that the promises were for me and carried on with life, trusting you for things. Oh, it wasn’t always that easy and simple – by no means was it that way.  But at several points in my life it WAS that way, I did trust you and feel one with you, believing that you had my best interests at heart, believing that you loved me and cared for me.  I guess deep down I still believe those things – that you want only the best for me.  However, it’s so easy now to doubt all that.  I’ve been through so many trials, so much heartache, so much pain and numbing depression for so long that I can’t help but doubt, can’t help but wonder what the reason is for all this.  I wonder what purpose you could possibly have in mind for all this.  I wonder why you don’t make it all go away.  I believe that you have the power to make it disappear once and for all.  You have the power to enable me to enjoy life, to begin each day knowing that there’s a reason, a purpose that I got out of bed, that it’s not just another random day in my boring, monotonous life.  I believe that you can do all this, so why don’t you?  Why don’t you allow me some happiness like I used to have in my life?  Why did I have to peak at 13, 14, 15?  I’m now 42 – that’s a long time to struggle and be unhappy.  Yes, I’ve had a few good times, but they have been few and far between.  And lately they’ve been very few with a lot of in between.  I remember Daddy sitting on the carport almost every night after work, after a swig or two of whiskey.  He’d drink coffee and smoke, just staring off into the distance toward the end of the lot.  What was he thinking about all these years, when he was 50 or 60 years old? – after I’d already come onto the scene.  Was he pondering his failures in life?  Was he wishing that he’d never contracted TB and had to leave the city, bitter that he was living out his life in a podunk little town?  Probably he thought about all these things and many more which I’ll never know about, never coming close to thinking about.  What deep, dark secrets had he packed away in his head?  The bigger question is this: will I be doing this same thing for the rest of my life?  Will I sit and stare and ponder and regret and wish and hope – not dreaming, because those days are long past.  It is too late for dreams now.  They are things for youth, those who have energy and zest for life, those who have not been weighed down by heartache and pain and disappointment and depression for decades.  For years now I have sat outside, mostly in the evenings, pondering, regretting, mournful about the past, bitter about the future, feeling stuck in a drab, joyless existence for the rest of my days – feeling powerless to change anything in my life, resigned to accept what I’ve got and drift along with the current through the rest of the lazy river of life, until I reach the end and have to turn in my innertube.  It’s not been a fun ride.  I thought these things (life) were supposed to be pleasant, relaxing, enjoyable.  I look around and see others taking pleasure in their ride.  They’re laughing with family and friends, enjoying a cool drink along the way, kicked back on their innertube, sunglasses and sunscreen on to protect them from too much of a good thing.  Then I look at myself — I have none of those things.  Yes I have a family to enjoy (which I do), but no cool drink, no sunglasses, no sunscreen.  I’m squinting from the glare all the way around the path.  And I’m not even on the innertube, just holding on with one arm while in the water, shoulders getting more and more sunburned.  Yes, there are others I notice who don’t even have an innertube.  They’re dog paddling, trying to stay afloat and conserve their energy at the same time, hoping not to get a cramp before they reach the end.  Looking at their plight does, in a way, make me thankful for my innertube to hang on to, thankful for my family to talk to.  But, it also causes me to question the ride, the whole experience.  Why do these people have so little, when others have so much?  Why is that elderly man so miserable on his journey, fighting to keep his head above water with nothing to grasp on to, when just a few feet away a 20-something sips his lemonade, holds hands with his young wife, and playfully dangles his feet in the same water which threatens to overtake the old man?  Why was he not given an innertube as well?  It doesn’t seem fair.  Oh, I know – nobody ever said life was fair.  But what about the fact that none of us even asked to get on this ride?  We didn’t sign up for it, not me, not the old man, not the 20-something.  We all just somehow found ourselves here, only in vastly different circumstances.  We didn’t ask to get on the ride, and we can’t get off the ride (oh, there’s a way, but it’s not desirable).  The old guy can question aloud why he didn’t get an innertube, but nobody has acknowledged him yet, much less given him any relief.  I’d like to have some sunglasses, even a cheap dollar store pair, but so far nothing.  I squint while another smiles with ease.