Why I Blog

April 21, 2014 003

Funny, but I never, ever would have suspected that illness would unlock the door to my public writing.

After years of chronic back pain which culminated in a spinal fusion, I began to blog. I’ve always liked to put my thoughts on paper. As a child I would write notes of affection to my mom. When I dated I would write notes and poems to Cheryl. Once, I wrote a poem of gratitude for my dad a few years before he died. I would often record thoughts and experiences for no particular purpose, other than to solidify what I was thinking at the time. In the ninth grade when I was forced to make a selection as to what vocation I wanted to pursue, I chose journalism. I did not walk this path professionally, but in some small way I have practiced it by scribbling my thoughts down ever since.

The years of chronic pain took their toll on my physical health. Also, during the past decade I lost parents and nieces to the grave, left a partnership which ended up in broken relationships and was involved in a ministry debacle involving leaders who were my close friends. The stage was set and I eventually succumbed to a rather serious bout of depression which lasted nearly four years. Anxiety was a constant companion, as was fear and confusion. This was not that long ago and it was an ugly time. As I walked through this illness, I felt as though I were caught in a maze without a way out. When I fell asleep at night, not waking up became a comforting thought.

The recognition of my illness was forced upon me by extreme anxiety attacks. I reluctantly sought help. It is difficult for a self-sufficient man to admit that he has been taken down by an “ illness of weakness ”, as I once thought depression was. After a few doctors, several medications, and counseling, I started to pull out of my personal hell. I prayed often during this period. They were short prayers because my attention span was short. I didn’t receive any answers which perplexed me, however, I never felt abandoned by God-just tested. I thought about Job a lot.

Once I began to experience sporadic rays of light illuminate my being, I ruminated about what had been taking place within me. I recall reading a few helpful books and many a self-help book with multiple keys to wholeness and significance. They confused me so I quit reading them. What works for one may work for another, but in general each person must seek and discover his or her own formula for wholeness. It is the ‘ living abundantly ‘ part of my existence that I struggle with the most. I’m still searching while trying to enjoy what I have and where I am. Writing has become a panacea for me.

I was fortunate to come across an invitation thrown out by Civitas Press to contribute to a collaborative effort to create a book about depression. I wrote a short essay and was accepted. The book was published and my name was among the list of authors. There was no compensation, except the hope that whoever reads this book will benefit from it. After I received my free copy, I began to read the stories of others who suffered from depression. I couldn’t finish the book. It depressed me!

This brief encounter with having a piece of my writing published gave me confidence to explore how I could continue to write and be heard. Writing is a process of self-discovery, as much as it is anything else. I wanted to know me better, and I wanted to help others in the process. I was encouraged by a wonderful young lady named Angel, who was the marketing director of an inspirational website. After we had a few chats over the internet, she said I should consider creating a blog. I didn’t have a clue as to what a blog was so I began to learn. At some pivotal point during this process, I made the leap and started a blog in August of 2012. It was liberating and scary at the same time. It still is.

I concluded my inaugural post with these words, “And, maybe, I will begin to remove the hinges from the door that I can’t seem to open wide, and instead, remove it. Why should the door exist anyway? Who do I want to keep out, and why do I want to stay in? I don’t know. However, I seek to find out ”.

This was my way of expressing the frustration which percolated within me. To be true to myself, I can’t state that I am much farther along in answering those questions. However, one thing I do know is that I am not alone. My family and close friends have been a great support. Also, I have met some very wonderful and talented people as a result of posting and following other’s blogs. The greatest satisfaction I experience occurs during my interactions with others. My goal is to encourage and inspire so I am afforded the opportunity to do both via my writing and the posting of my photography. My soul has received the beneficial balm of inspired words and photographs by my fellow sojourners. I am grateful, and encouraged, as well.

My essence can best be described as tossed salad these days as I struggle to find my place in this world, as Michael W. Smith once sang about. At this stage of my life I am astonished that I am where I am. I fully expected to be more certain about life…and me. This does not mean I don’t have a strong set of core values. I do. The road I have traveled has been full of twists and turns, bumps and bruises. But, I must ask, haven’t all of ours been like that? Jesus told His followers that each day has enough trouble of its own. Those who are going through serious trials would even say this is an understatement. Of course, our Lord never under or over stated anything. He was simply making the point that life is hard. Therefore, we are encouraged to trust in Him; the Way, the Truth and the Life. This imploring to trust is easier said than done, but not impossible or He wouldn’t have commanded us to do so in the first place. ‘Challenging’ may be a more accurate assessment when it comes to taking up our crosses and following (trusting & obeying) Christ. Dying to self is not enjoyable.

Writing for me is a tonic of sorts. Sometimes it is bittersweet. At other times it is smooth and refreshing. Always, it is different. For each thought, every idea, the occasional epiphany are unique from one another. Multiply that dynamic by everyone who holds the pen or punches a keyboard and we have a vast garden variety of words which can impact us. It is my sincerest hope that my words make a positive impression, and occasionally inspire. At the very least, I pray my words don’t offend. To challenge and question is okay…yes?  I hope you can relate. Life is too short to waste on the trivial.

One last thought; actually more of a postscript. The personal experiences I listed are not to gain pity or sympathy. They are real, they hurt, and I am still wrestling with the residual effects of depression and, of course, daily pain. However, because so many people deal with so much more hardship, I considered not posting this piece. I did post, in spite of my reluctance, because I want others to relate and to be encouraged. Please note that throughout my life I have been the recipient of so many more positives than the negatives I have identified. In a nutshell, I have been blessed.

I have gleaned wisdom from the words of Christopher Reeves, after he was paralyzed, when he simply stated that he had accepted the cards he was dealt and was doing the best he could to play them. I am coping, striving, growing and stumbling. I press on, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed. I honestly believe the goal is well worth the trials. Not to say this is an easy thing to boast of when I am at my worst. Interestingly, I have noticed this: the darker the trial, the clearer the goal. In no way am I comparing myself to Stephan when he was being stoned to death, but there is a great object lesson to be learned from this tragic incident. Immediately before he died he saw Heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. What a glorious vision he was given. The Good Shepherd yearns to restore souls and invites all to spend eternity with Him.

MARK-ING ST. PATRICK’S DAY

DSC00738Whenever I think about St. Patrick’s Day, my mind immediately goes to an old friend of mine. His name is Mark Manning…Irish through and through. My friend in not physically with us anymore. He left us almost three years ago. It doesn’t seem that it’s been that long, though.

Occasionally, we are blessed to cross paths with a truly remarkable person. Mark was this and so much more. I could easily lavish a plethora of positive adjectives concerning this unique and gifted man. However, I will share only a couple of his most endearing qualities. I almost failed to mention that Mark was a quadriplegic, an accomplished artist, history teacher, and faithful servant of Christ.

Mark entered my life, or I should say we crossed paths, while attending the same church many years ago. One of my fondest memories is when he invited me and Cheryl to attend his family’s St. Patrick’s Day gathering. This was an honor, and a rather large gathering, too. The Manning clan is numerous and knows how to throw a good St. Pats party! Mark’s brothers, sisters and mom are the most welcoming group of people I have come across. Mark stood out among them all. He engaged us from the moment he noticed we were at the clubhouse. He made us feel comfortable, and talked to us like we were old friends. Not many people have this ability.

One of the qualities I want to share about Mark was his unassuming, and humble personality. Although he sat in a wheelchair, he was the tallest person everywhere he went. He reached out to others and made them feel special. He always asked how one was getting along in life, and he meant it. He would encourage. He would teach without you even knowing it. He would point you in the right direction, and encourage you. I never walked away from spending time with Mark saddened because he was crippled physically. Instead, I always left him a better person than when I greeted him. Amazing how he had that effect on everyone.

Mark was an inspiration. He accomplished more than most, and without the use of his legs and only with very little function of his arms and hands. As I mentioned, he was an excellent artist who used the medium of watercolors to express his inward poetry. Mark created an annual  community outdoor art exhibit which was sponsored by his city and local businesses, and which received much recognition. He majored in art history and shared his passion with others. He became a Christian and was responsible for leading his family and many friends to the Source of his strength.

For those of you who know the difficulties of paralysis, Mark handled this disability with strength and grace. He was forced to rely upon the aid of others to perform even the most mundane personal tasks, yet he  maintained his dignity. Finding reliable and good care was always a challenge, but he never complained about that. In fact, I don’t ever recall Mark complaining about anything! Being around him was refreshing.

Mark was a great listener, and offered wise counsel, but not too much of it. He was insightful and could be firm when necessary, but was gentle by choice. I miss him. I miss his smiling face and kindness. I miss his advice. I miss our fellowship. However, I don’t miss his physical handicap, and am so looking forward to seeing my friend run and jump and walk when I reach my final destination. I am confident that Mark will be among many who will greet me. What a day that will be!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Mark.